Blog - January 25, 2020

Lebanon formed a new government on Tuesday, headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab. But it’s unlikely to be a political panacea, because Beirut is suffering from a malaise that can’t be solved by replacing the old ministerial lineup with a new one. This is all the more true because

Lebanon’s new government differs from the previous one only in form, rather than substance. Its constituent ministers are technocrats in name only. In reality, they’re beholden to the same political forces whose repeated failures have brought Lebanon to the edge of an economic abyss.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni – like his predecessor Ali Hassan Khalil – is beholden to the AMAL Movement. He is a former financial adviser to the Lebanese Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee, and an adviser to AMAL’s leader, Parliament-Speaker-for-life Nabih Berri.

Interior Minister Mohamad Fehmi – whose ministry controls the powerful Internal Security Forces – is a former Lebanese army general who rose in the ranks under pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. He is rumored to have pro-Assad regime sympathies and was reportedly nominated to his current post by Hezbollah at a Syrian security adviser’s behest.

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) still effectively controls the Foreign and Defense Ministries. But its picks Nassif Hitti – a former Lebanese ambassador to the Arab League –  and Zeina Akar Adra – executive director of her husband Jawad’s research consultancy firms – are expected to toe the party line.

Economy Minister Raoul Nehme is also an FPM nominee. He was Executive Committee chairman at Cyprus-based ASTROBank, and was also appointed the executive general manager of Bank Med on May 17, 2018. Between April 2008 and August 2015, he served on the board of BLC-Fransabank, implicated in the past in financing Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s picks still control the Health Ministry. The new health minister, Hamad Hassan, is a medical academic. He was, until his recent nomination, the head of the pro-Hezbollah Baalbek Municipalities Union. Hassan also dubbed Lebanon’s October 17 uprising, a “dark movement.” A Hezbollah candidate, Imad Hoballah, has also resumed control of the Industry Ministry, after a brief break during the last government. Hoballah was serving as the provost and chief academic officer at the American University of Dubai prior to his nomination.

Whether this government lasts is irrelevant, as Lebanon’s political class will inevitably continue its “bickering-as-usual” approach to politics. As is now becoming the norm for virtually any decision taken by Beirut – including electing a president, passing a budget, economic reforms, or cabinet formation – the process drags on endlessly, circuitously arriving at an outcome by way of several fits and starts. Optimistic pronouncements are quickly dashed on the rocks of Lebanon’s horse-trading style of political compromise. We’ll likely see more of this dynamic in the months ahead given that the fundamentals of Lebanon’s underlying political system remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, the country is falling apart. Quite literally, in some cases long-neglected infrastructure merely gives way to the forces of nature, leading to floods, sinkholes, and even cemeteries collapsing.

It’s also almost become a cliché to mention that Beirut is going through an unprecedented financial crisis. Lebanon’s foreign donors have cut off its funding until the newly-formed government implements genuine economic reforms. While he was still in office, Saad Hariri even begged them for basic aid, but only Egypt responded to the call.  Foreign officials have conveyed the same stern message to his successor, Diab.

Meanwhile, people are losing jobs in record numbers; the price of basic foodstuffs is skyrocketing; the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar has evaporated, though Central Bank Governor Riadh Salameh refuses to admit it; and – to make matters worse – Lebanon is heading towards a total power and internet blackout within the next two months. As this dire outcome becomes more imminent, Lebanon’s three-month uprising against this inept political class is turning increasingly violent.

That matters would reach such a bleak outcome has been obvious for months. But no one in Lebanon’s political class could be bothered to look past their partisan interests to do anything about it. That attitude will continue to affect even the most critical of future government decisions, including passing a budget.

David Daoud is a research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).